Earlier this week, our Minister for Natural Resources, the Hon. Joe Oliver, went to Washington on what the Canadian media mistakenly insists on calling a "charm offensive." It really cannot be described as having anything to do with "charm" when the minister, fresh from having told La Presse that scientists are less worried about global warming; that 2 degrees is not a big deal, decided to insult one of the USA's most respected scientists, James Hansen.
Dr. Hansen is not just someone who used to work at NASA. He was NASA's top climate scientist. Thursday, I found this tribute to James Hansen that will give Canadians who do not know much about Dr. Hansen (and I guess that means Mr. Oliver, at least) a sense of his stature south of the border and globally. This tribute was written by another Joe -- Joe Romm (1).
I don't think I can improve upon it, and I ask you to read it. Joe Oliver said James Hansen should be "ashamed" for urging the President to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. He said Dr. Hansen has been "crying wolf." Whatever your views on any particular pipeline, I ask you to read this. And then ask yourself how long we will tolerate having our highest ranking Canadian officials embarrass internationally by attacking the most courageous of scientists? It is we who are ashamed -- of our government.
James Hansen was awarded the Ridenhour Courage Prize today. The Prize is "presented to an individual in recognition of his or her courageous and life-long defense of the public interest and passionate commitment to social justice."
I was given the great privilege of introducing Hansen. This is what I prepared:
James Hansen is being honored today in part because he told Congress: "The global warming now is large enough that we can ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause-and-effect relationship to the greenhouse effect."
The courageous part isn't what he said, it's when he said it -- 25 years ago, during the sweltering summer of 1988. It was the first high-profile public statement by a US government scientist alerting the country to this grave threat.
Jim embodies the Ridenhour Courage Prize. When he was still NASA's top climate scientist, he blew the whistle on government efforts to silence him -- and others -- on climate change.
Jim is a modern day Paul Revere ... if Paul Revere's midnight ride had taken place in 1750 and the message was, "The British are coming, The British are coming -- in 25 years."
Yes, climate change is a challenging story to tell. And Jim has actually been telling it publicly since 1981, when he published his first warning that led to a major New York Times story, headlined, "Study Finds Warming Trend That Could Raise Sea Levels."
And yet carbon pollution has kept rising. We live in a spineless world, where being scientifically right for over 30 years gives you no more credit with the national media than being a professional disinformer funded by the fossil fuel industry.
How spineless is this world? If a doctor used the best science to diagnose a smoker as having early-stage emphysema and the doctor did NOT urge the patient to start quitting cigarettes, he'd be charged with malpractice.
But if a climatologist uses the best science to diagnose an entire planet as having early-stage climate change, and he urges the world to start quitting fossil fuels, well, then he is labeled an alarmist or an extremist by industry-backed groups.
The truth is we all should be alarmed by the great moral crisis of our time. By destroying a livable climate we are stealing the future from our children and grandchildren and countless future generations.
To save this spineless world from itself, supplying the truth isn't enough. You need to supply the spine, too. You need to be courageous. And so Jim has been forced by the times -- and by his moral convictions -- to become an activist.
There is a saying that applies to Jim, "One man with courage is a majority."
How many scientists have spawned an entire movement?
Five years ago Jim explained that "If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted," we need to return carbon dioxide levels back to 350 parts per million. That led to Bill McKibben founding the group 350.org.
Then Jim said burning the tar sands would be "game over for the climate" -- and that led to the fight against the Keystone XL pipeline -- and the biggest protests and civil disobedience the climate movement had ever seen.
And because Jim has the courage of his convictions he has had the courage to be convicted himself -- he's been arrested 5 times during peaceful protests.
Fifty years ago this month, another great moral crusader was arrested for protesting -- and he wrote a letter from his jail cell in Birmingham explaining why. "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere," wrote Martin Luther King Jr. on April 16, 1963. "We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny."
Now more than ever, we are "tied in a single garment of destiny," cloaked as a species in a protective climate that we are in the process of unraveling. And so the need for activism, the need for courage, the need to speak out, is as great as ever.
As King put it, "We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people."
It is my singular honor to give you a man who will not have to repent, a man for all seasons, literally -- the winner of the 2013 Ridenhour Courage Prize, Dr. James Hansen.
(1)From Wikipedia: Joseph J. Romm (born June 27, 1960) is an American author, blogger, physicist and climate expert who concentrates on methods of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and global warming and increasing energy security through energy efficiency, green energy technologies and green transportation technologies. In December 2008, Romm was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In March 2009, Rolling Stone magazine named Romm to its list of "100 People Who Are Changing America". In September 2009, Time magazine named him one of its "Heroes of the Environment (2009)", calling him "The Web's most influential climate-change blogger".
Romm is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, where he writes and maintains their climate blog, Climate Progress. In 2008, Time magazine named Romm's blog one of the "Top 15 Green Websites". In 2009, Thomas L. Friedman, in his column in The New York Times, called Climate Progress "the indispensable blog", and in 2010, Time included it in a list of the 25 "Best Blogs of 2010". Romm also writes regularly for several energy and news websites.
In the 1990s, Romm served as Acting Assistant Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy. Romm has published several books on global warming and energy technology. Technology Review wrote that his December 2006 book, Hell and High Water, "provides an accurate summary of what is known about global warming and climate change, a sensible agenda for technology and policy, and a primer on how political disinformation has undermined climate science." Romm's 2010 book, Straight Up, released in April 2010, is a selection of his blog postings since 2007.
Follow Elizabeth May on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ElizabethMay